Excellent D&D Tips From A Veteran Dungeon Master

Excellent D&D Tips From A Veteran Dungeon Master

If you’ve ever been a Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master, you know that it’s a weighty responsibility. The dice may help decide who wins and who loses, but you and you alone are responsible for everyone’s fun.

In a great post over on reddit, writer/game designer Matt Colville, a DM of 28 years, has shared some tips on how Dungeon Masters can best serve their players, their stories, and their games.

His tips range from the practical:

Make a list, right now, of male and female names, maybe 10 of each, that you think are appropriate to your setting. Clip it to your GM screen or whatever. Any time you need a name for an NPC, just grab the next one on the list. The goal here is to be able to make up an NPC and instantly know their name. The players will go places and meet people you haven’t thought of and if you can say, at the drop of a hat, “The guard’s name is Fandrick,” it will seem to your players that these NPCs are real people who really exist and you’re not just making it all up.

to the crafty:

Listen to your players. They will come up with shit you never though of but they don’t know you didn’t think of it. “I bet there’s a secret way in.” Hey that’s a good idea! “You know, I think this guy works for the bad guys.” Hey that’s a good idea!

to the frank:

Use a GM screen. It’s ok if the evening ends in a Total Party Kill because the heroes were relentlessly stupid, but it’s not ok if it ends that way because you didn’t realise how tough these monsters were. Fudge the die rolls to correct your mistakes, not theirs.

His final tip is my favourite: “Err on the side of the players.” Sounds like advice that video-game developers would do well to keep in mind…

Go read the whole thing, along with the other suggestions in the thread. If you’re anything like me, it will make you want to go track down some friends and start a new D&D campaign as soon as humanly possible.

[Via Whitson Gordon]


  • Hm, those aren’t a bad idea. Only just started DMing, and it was pretty awkward to come up with a town name on the spot. Having a pre-made list would be good.

    • Yeah I do town names, pub/shop names and NPC names. I also make a grid system – name down and 1-10 across and get each player to make a Perception check, fill in the boxes so you can make sneaky rolls to see if they see anything without them get suspicions each time you ask them to make a perception check.

  • I have never done role playing. But after listening to a few tabletop theatre podcasts recently, it seems like a lot of fun.

  • Know the environment your players are going into. Make your head-space encompass it. Disassociate from your everyday personality. Then begin to engage with the PCs.

    F*k I miss GMing.

  • Fudging dice rolls is completely underestimated. The best games I’ve played were ones where the players trusted me and we didn’t use dice or sheets. We just played characters and they knew the battles were a challenge, but they’d get a great experience out of it.

  • My favourite part of DMing was coming up with memorable characters that stuck with people decades after. I think those are the most important memories. I’ll give you some examples. A handicapped ridiculously competent sellsword only capable of saying the word “potato” (made for some hilarious battle cries). A senile wizard who long ago lost his powers but thought he still had them, when he cast a spell he’d yell the name of the spell such as “fireball” and make his own sound effects to compliment the delusion, I had loads of fun making sizzling and whooshing noises. My party members had to entertain the old man because he was a wealthy benefactor of their quest so they had to go along with his delusion, at times killing monsters so he wouldn’t realise his magic no longer worked. A small, mute goblin-esque creature of no discernible species that began following the party rogue around and imitating his every move, even cobbling together a costume to imitate him. He stuck around for a long time and I never gave a reason why this small creature did what it did or even what it was. Eventually the the guy playing the rogue started to train the little guy. An incredibly racist, sexist and offensive intelligent dagger that could be heard by only the party members. I used it to distract the party members, often making them laugh at inappropriate times. And it was fun making it say sexually harassing things to other weapons in the world, imagine a dagger making vulgar advances on another party members battle axe. A masked eleven assassin that was after a party member with a shady past, he was over powered, able to easily kill the entire party so every time he showed up the encounter was about escaping and running and eluding this guy. They learned to fear this guy and it was a nice change having a foe that the characters weren’t supposed to dispatch.

    I would just spend my time dreaming up crazy, fantastic and memorable characters to populate the world because that is what gave the games life and fun and at the end of the day you remember those more than the stats and rules.

    PS. That art up top! I remember spending hours looking at that piece in the manuals.

  • One thing I’d bear in mind: Wiping a group doesn’t necessarily mean killing them. By knocking them all unconscious you can take that opportunity to put them into an escapable prison!

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